“Ekiben” refers to packed lunches sold at railroad stations and on trains, such as the Shinkansen and local trains. It could be one of the pleasures of traveling by train. It’s quite exciting to see “ekiben” lined up in station buildings, inside stations, and at stores on platforms. Of course, there are many kinds of “ekiben” in each region or area. There are many products that use ingredients that are unique to that region or area, or that focus on the local specialties or cuisine. Moreover, each place (or store) has its own unique containers and packaging, so even if the dishes are the same, they can be quite different. Looking at “ekiben”, you can learn about the specialties of the region or area, so it will be very interesting to observe. In this article, we would like to talk about such “ekiben”.
A “bento” is one way of serving food in which the staple food and side dishes are packed together in the same container (although some types are separated). It is said that this way of serving food is a rather rare food culture. Since the modern era, “bento” have been prepared on a daily basis in every household in Japan. So people took them to their work or school every day. And even today, supermarkets and convenience stores in Japan always have a special section for them. The good point about “bento” is that you can eat a wide variety of foods and have a good nutritional balance. Another nice point about them is that they use cooking methods that take into account preservation of taste or flavor, as well as preservation of the dish from rotting too quickly. We might be able to say that “bento” is a very condensed version of Japanese culinary culture. In recent years, this “bento” culture has been attracting attention overseas, especially in Europe and the United States. We’re glad to hear that.
As we explained above, the “bento” culture has been very familiar to Japanese people for a long time. It is said that “ekiben” came to be sold around the middle of the Meiji era (1868-1912). Since railroads began to be built in Japan in the early Meiji era, the demand for “ekiben,” boxed lunches for railroad passengers, started quite early, and the sale of such bento seems to have started quite early. The first “ekiben” were simple rice balls and pickles (takuan) wrapped together in bamboo bark. As a matter of fact, there are many theories about the origin of “ekiben”. One of the most popular theories is that the aforementioned rice ball set sold at Utsunomiya station is the original. On the other hand, there are some other opinions that it was sold at other train stations before that. In addition to these theories, there is also an opinion that the original “ekiben” should be those that are packaged in so-called bento box-like containers. Well, there will be no doubt that at least in the 1880s, when the construction of railroads began, the sale of what could be called “ekiben” started early. In the early days, “ekiben” were sold by vendors who came to sell them in the stationary train or through the window of train. As more and more people started to use the trains, they began to be sold in the stations, at the stores on the platforms, and even in the running trains. Of course, the variety of “ekiben” increased rapidly. After the war, many “ekiben” were sold, especially those that featured the local features of each region. “Ekiben” helped to promote the specialties of each region or area. As a result, a number of “ekiben” have been created that are known as specialties throughout Japan.
It used to be that “ekiben” was some kinds of special ones that you had to visit each region or area to enjoy… Some of the most famous “ekiben” are now available at large stations in other major cities. You can also purchase them at local product exhibitions held at large commercial facilities, and in some cases, you can also order them online. While we’re honestly happy about them, we also feel a little confused about that… But it’s a very convenient world we live in… AHAHAHA(￣▽￣;) Well, since these are good opportunities, please try them out whenever you see them. We would like to introduce various recommended “ekiben” again from time to time, so please look forward to it! ヽ(≧▽≦)丿